Foxhole Christianity

There's a famous saying, "There are no atheists in a foxhole."

It means that when you're in a war and the shooting is happening, everyone tends to cast hope in something bigger than themselves - in a God who cares about their own wellbeing.

In watching some of the excellent Ken Burns Vietnam documentary on PBS recently, I heard letters from a young man who said he was an atheist "until the next firefight broke out."

It's hard for me to offer any criticism of someone with this disposition, because I think I have a remarkably similar mentality most of the time.

I'm a follower of Jesus, but often times my devotion is far more evident when everything is on fire around me. Metaphorically speaking, of course. I've never had the burden of being asked to go to war where everything around me is literally on fire.

I'll put it like this: my faith tends to be more integral to my everyday life when I'm in crisis than it is when I'm content with my surroundings.

I tend to be more of a disaster Christian than a disciple Christian. 

Disciples follow their teacher everywhere, in both the good and the bad. But I often treat God more like 911 - only calling when something has gone terribly wrong.

I don't want to be like this, but it's basic human nature, and if I don't actively fight against it, it's what happens. 

When I'm not intentional about constructing my life around healthy practical spirituality, I function more like a repairman who shows up when something is already broken, rather than a maintenance man whose efforts prevent that breakdown from ever occurring.

One more word picture of how I function when I'm being lazy about my spiritual health:

I get an oil change on my car and it runs great. It runs so great that I ignore the sticker in my windshield that tells me it's time to get the oil changed again. "Why bother? Everything is fine" I think to myself.

But after I go long enough, issues start popping up - the car runs a little rough. Maybe it doesn't start very well. But it can still get me where I want to go. If I'm smart, I go to the mechanic at this point to avoid a major issue. But if I'm lazy, I ignore it and eventually I have to go to the mechanic and get a major overhaul. It's costly and time consuming. Afterwards, the car runs great again! And while I vow never to let it happen again, the car is running so great when the sticker says to get the oil changed, I figure I can get a few more miles out of it...

Instead of this really silly cycle, I need to look at Jesus. If there's anybody who didn't need "spiritual oil changes" as much as I do, it's Jesus. Yet, we see him doing spiritual maintenance all the time. Luke tells us that "Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer." (Luke 5:15 emphasis mine)

If Jesus couldn't be a "foxhole faithful," why do I ever assume I can be?

I once heard of a championship football team that took an unusual approach to practicing. Most teams practice harder after a defeat and take it a bit easier after a win. It's meant to be an incentive to the team - win the game and you get a bit of a break.

But this championship team took the opposite approach: they practiced harder after a win. When their schedule gave them a week off, most of the players stuck around and kept working to get better.

I want that to be my spiritual life. Instead of only truly seeking Jesus with all my heart with nothing makes sense and I can't catch a break, I want to embrace my need for Jesus when everything seems fine. 

Because I want to do more than just survive in this world, I want to thrive in it. I want to make a difference for the better with my life, and if I'm only really worried about being okay for my own sake, I can't help anybody else. 

And that's not what being part of a community is about - and the Body of Christ is supposed to be the healthiest community on planet Earth. So I'm going to continue to implement healthy habits which point me to Jesus even - especially - when I don't feel like I need those "extra" measures.

So that when the bullets start flying, I don't need to get frantic, because I know I'm not alone.